The Postmaster


Rabindranath Tagore

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The Postmaster Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Rabindranath Tagore's The Postmaster. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, born in Calcutta, British India, in 1861, was a renowned Bengali writer and a stalwart of the Bengal renaissance, a period in which Bengal art and culture flourished during the reign of the British Indian Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Born into a wealthy, educated family active in the Bengal literary scene, Tagore is best known for his 1910 collection of poems entitled Gitanjali (meaning “Song offering”), for which he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore was educated both in India and England—in Calcutta, East Sussex, and at University College London—and was seen by many in the literary modernist movement as an artist capable of bridging the gap between British and Bengal literary traditions. Yet Tagore (often called “the Bard,” or the Shakespeare, of Bengal) was also openly critical of the British Raj, or British colonial rule in India. Though he developed relationships with the British writers H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and W. B. Yeats (who helped to publish Gitanjali and wrote an introduction to the text), Tagore firmly opposed British imperialism, and he declined the British government’s offer of Knighthood in 1919 after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which British troops in India fired on peaceful protesters. Tagore is celebrated today for his insightful lyrical poetry, as well as for his prolific work in other genres: essays, short stories, plays, lectures, drawings, and paintings.
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Historical Context of The Postmaster

Tagore wrote “The Postmaster” during the rule of the British Crown in India, known as the Raj (1858–1947). Britain’s system of imperialism did not extend to the entire subcontinent, portions of which continued to self-govern, but the government’s influence in Indian life created chaos, segregation, and violent rebellion. White Britons—colonial administrators—lived alongside their marginalized subjects, and famine, high taxation, and massive debts crippled the Indian economy. “The Postmaster” involves an Indian man who works for the British government as a postmaster, and it is strongly implied that the poverty-stricken Bengal town in which he is stationed has been affected by imperialist policy. Years after Tagore wrote the “The Postmaster,” the Raj began to unravel. Beginning in the 1940s, nationalist resistance spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi and severe economic challenges contributed to the gradual defeat of British rule.

Other Books Related to The Postmaster

Tagore completed fifty-nine stories during the 1890s, when he wrote “The Postmaster.” Many of these were published in popular Bengal periodicals and also involved issues of class and power, including “Little Master’s Return” (1891), about a lower-class Bengali who cares for his wealthy master’s child. Additionally, Tagore’s 1912 play The Post Office also features a postmaster—albeit a fantasized one, envisioned by a dying child and symbolizing empire. In addition to Tagore, Troilokynath Mukhopadhya, Rabindranath Thakur, Akshoy Kumar Sen, Nagendra Nath, Sachin Majumdar, and the literary magazine Bharati (edited by Tagore’s older sister) contributed to the development of the Bengal short story in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At the end of the nineteenth century, Swarna Kumari Devi, a woman writer, published the short story “Birenda Singhs Ratnholar” (Birenda Singh finds wealth), considered a pioneering work in this period of Bengal literature.
Key Facts about The Postmaster
  • Full Title: The Postmaster
  • When Written: 1891
  • Where Written: East Bengal
  • When Published: 1891
  • Literary Period: Literary realism/modernism 
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: Ulapur, Bengal, British India
  • Climax: The postmaster decides to leave Ulapur and Ratan because of his illness.
  • Antagonist: There is no clear antagonist in the story, though Ulapur might be considered an antagonizing force to the narrator, who experiences illness and discomfort during his time there
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient narrator

Extra Credit for The Postmaster

Movie adaptation. “Postmaster,” a 2016 Bengali movie, is based on “The Postmaster,” with a few significant changes. In this adaptation, Ratan and the postmaster marry secretly, defying the wishes of the postmaster’s conservative father.

Writing from real life. Tagore wrote “The Postmaster” while working as a landlord in Sajadpur, Bengal, where he managed his family’s estates. In Sajadpur, Tagore was acquainted with a local postmaster in the area, though it is not entirely clear whether the real postmaster’s experiences influenced Tagore’s story. Tagore also lived above a post office, which took up the first floor of his family home.